The New #1 Google My Business Ranking Factor

Google My Business expert, Joy Hawkins met with Eric Shanfelt to reveal the new #1 ranking factor in how Google ranks local businesses in its search results. Enjoy the free video tip below!

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The New #1 Google My Business Ranking Factor Video Transcript

Joy Hawkins: There’s an algorithm update that happened in September of last year which I covered extensively. I wrote a lot of articles on Possum, we called it.

Eric Shanfelt: Yep.

Joy Hawkins: And Possum was initially not really picked up by a lot of the ranking trackers because it only impacted the local results. So it didn’t really impact organic stuff at all. But we saw major shifts in who showed up in the three pack in pretty much every vertical across the board. So with this big shake-up came out a new number one ranking factor. Which Darren Shaw did a bunch of coverage on over at Moz.

Eric Shanfelt: Yep.

Joy Hawkins: And basically the new number one ranking factor now is proximity to the searcher. So what that means in plain English is where your customers are physically located when they’re searching on Google impacts what they see. And I linked to the study, but I’ll show what I’m talking about here.

Let’s say you’re in Philadelphia. So you’ve got a business and you’re in Philadelphia. So previously on Google, if your business was close to where the word “Philadelphia” is on that map, so downtown-

Eric Shanfelt: Right.

Joy Hawkins: or what we also call the centroid, you have a huge ranking advantage. So if you were that guy that’s starred on the map, so in north-east Philadelphia there you’ll notice there’s a little gold star there. If you were him, you were kind of screwed previously, you really wouldn’t really wouldn’t rank well for terms including Philadelphia because you were so far from the centroid. Which isn’t really fair, technically, because it’s not like everyone in Philadelphia wants stuff downtown, right?

Eric Shanfelt: Right.

Joy Hawkins: So I mean that’s just the way things were in local SEO. So now, what happens is the results vary greatly depending on where the person’s actually located when they’re searching. So if the person is actually in downtown Philadelphia  – so if you have a ranking tracker and you’re scanning from Philadelphia, just FYI, it’s scanning from the centroid, so it’s scanning from downtown. This is what you’d see on the left. You’d see all these businesses on the left. However, if you’re scanning from 19154, or if you’re a user that’s in that zip code and you just type in “auto insurance Philadelphia” into your phone or your computer, you’re going to get the list on the right. And just a quick comparison looking at the two of them, they are literally completely different. So the businesses that show up on the right are completely different from the businesses that show up on the left, even though I typed in the exact same thing. The only thing that changes with these two lists is where I was located when I searched. So that-

Eric Shanfelt: Right. And obviously with mobile devices, it’s picking up your GPS location.

Joy Hawkins: Yep.

Eric Shanfelt: On desktop devices it’s picking up where you connect to the Internet, your IP location.

Joy Hawkins: Yeah. I think it uses a bunch of factors. You can actually set your location in your browser or it looks at your WIFI connection or it looks at a bunch of information that they have based on different signals.

Eric Shanfelt: Yeah I think this is really huge, Joy, because a lot of businesses, they’re wondering why they can’t rank in a certain area, and at the end of the day it really is the proximity to the searcher has become the number one thing. I think you’re right on. How does this affect service area businesses? So obviously you’re talking about businesses have a location, like the last example, but how about service area businesses, like a plumber, electrician or a HVAC person who comes out to the actual site of their customer? How does the proximity affect them?

Joy Hawkins: Same thing. It’s just it’s basing it on their address, which may or may not be visible to the human eye-

Eric Shanfelt: Okay.

Joy Hawkins: But if they’ve got it hidden, it doesn’t show me their address. But it’s based on the address they’re using. So if they’re using their home address-

Eric Shanfelt: So even if they’re a service area business and they’re not displaying their address, it’s still using that as the basis.

Joy Hawkins: Yep.

Eric Shanfelt: Okay.

Joy Hawkins: It always has. It’s just hidden. With this example that I showed previously, the stars on the map were all the businesses that showed up for auto insurance Philadelphia when scanning from a zip code. So you’ll see that zip code is highlighted in red and all the businesses that Google is showing for auto insurance Philadelphia are close to that zip code, right?

Eric Shanfelt: Yep.

Joy Hawkins: So it’s not even showing any businesses that are in the center of Philadelphia at all, because it is seeming that the person is wanting auto insurance in Philadelphia but somewhere close to them, not a 45 minute drive away.


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Joy Hawkins
Joy is the owner of the Local Search Forum and Sterling Sky in Canada. She is also the author of the Expert’s Guide to Local SEO, which is an advanced training manual for people wanting a detailed look at what it takes to succeed in the Local SEO space. She has been working in the industry since 2006. She has a monthly column on Search Engine Land and enjoys speaking regularly at marketing conferences such as SMX, LocalU, Pubcon and State of Search. You can find her on Twitter or volunteering as a Product Expert on the Google My Business Forum.

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